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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

June 2006

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

In this issue:

  1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month
    A little improv can help, even if the students are packin' heat.
  2. Presentation Hall of Shame
    A continuing discussion of how to "tailor" material to your audience.
  3. Presentation Skills Book Review
    Useful tips from a former Groundlings member.
  4. Useful Online Resource of the Month
    How New Mexico is helping promote peace in Northern Ireland.

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

[Editor's Note: Have you a good story to tell about the time SOMETHING WENT WRONG at a presentation you were giving (or attending)? We are soliciting submissions for this segment of our newsletter. If your story is chosen, you will receive a FREE copy of either of Ellen's two books, The Standup Trainer or Presenting with Style (your choice). Simply send your story (just a couple of paragraphs will be fine) to edowling@standuptrainer.com.]

This month I decided to share with you an incident that happened to me many years ago when I was in my "salad days" as a trainer, as it demonstrates quite nicely the use of improvisation, which Cherie Kerr talks about in her book, "I've Asked Miller to Say a Few Words." (See book review below.)

I was teaching a class in writing skills to a group of "command level" members of the local police department. The class was made up of lieutenants, captains, and deputy chiefs (very much akin to middle managers in any organization), and they all looked very much like middle managers (they were wearing sport coats or suits), with one noticeable exception: They were also all wearing guns.

That was a strange enough sensation for me: I keep thinking I ought to raise my hands in the air every time I turned to write on the white board. ("It's OK! I'm just going to pull this dry erase marker out of my pocket! Don't shoot!") But after awhile I got used to it and got into teaching them how to write business reports.

The classroom was set up "classroom" style, with all of the officers sitting in neat rows, one behind the other. (I learned later to request a seating arrangement more conducive to group activities and interaction.) At some point during the day, I was explaining to the all-male group what the difference was between writing at work (report writing) and writing in school (essay writing). I mentioned the word "essay" several times, and as I did so, I became aware that some of the students were whispering in the back row and giggling. Yes, giggling. (These were police officers, remember.)

I figured I'd just ignore the distraction and assume it would stop soon, but it continued. The giggling grew louder. The students in the front of the room were now turning around to see what was so funny. OK, I thought. This has to stop. I must do something.

I looked at the back row and immediately spotted the source of the giggling. The students were passing a note around. A note!

So I did what Cherie Kerr teaches in her book. I IMPROVISED!

Can you guess what I did? If you can, I'll send you a copy of either of my books or your own copy of I've Asked Miller to Say a Few Words. (If more than one person comes up with the right answer, I'll have a drawing!)

Tune in next month for "the rest of the story . . . ."

2. Presentation Hall of Shame

In the May newsletter I published this question from a friend of mine who works for an international manufacturing company:

Do you have any tips or tricks for how to reduce jargon in presentations? I’m in Corp Real Estate now and my team has a problem articulating themselves in language that senior management can understand. They’re so technical that they don’t see that so much of what they present is shrouded in jargon. Any advice?

My reply was to play "The Translation Game" (on p. 103 of Presenting with Style: Advanced Strategies for Superior Presentations) with his team members. And then I also asked you to offer some suggestions.

Everyone who replied agreed that the team members need some sort of tool by which they could analyze their audiences in depth BEFORE their presentation. They need a checklist of some sort that would help them frame their information in ways meaningful to listeners at different levels of expertise.

Here's my checklist (from Presenting with Style: Advanced Strategies for Superior Presentations, p. 57):

Checklist for a Mind Rehearsal

  • Who will attend the presentation? What kind of people will you be speaking to? (Are they, for example, salespeople, middle managers, accountants, ex cons, senior citizens?) Are they a homogeneous group, or are they a "mixed" audience? What concerns will they have?
  • Why will they attend? Because they've been told to, or because they want to? (The answer to this question will determine how much motivation your audience will need.)
  • What will they already know about your subject? Will they be totally unaware or completely misinformed? Will you have to "begin at the beginning?" Or will they already have a basic understanding and therefore need only further clarification? In other words, at what level of awareness are they?
  • What "language" will the audience understand? Will they understand the "language" of computers? Or finance? Or management? Or engineering? If they do not speak the language, what "translations" will you have to make for them? (If your talk is about computers, can you assume that your audience will know what you mean when you tell them how to do a "cold re-boot?" Will you have to say "get the computer up and running again" instead?)
  • What will they want to learn from your presentation? All good speakers establish clear objectives for their presentation. But it's also important to consider what your audience's objectives might be. If their objective is different from yours, you have a problem to solve before the presentation. How will they respond to your objective? Will they be friendly and open minded? Or will they be resistant and skeptical, perhaps even hostile? (Wouldn't you rather know this before the actual presentation?)
  • What does your audience know about you? Do you already have credibility with them? Or will you have to establish credibility in the first few moments? Will the audience perceive you as "friend" or "foe"? (The answer to this will determine your opening comments.)

If my friend's team members get together and discuss the answers to these questions in depth, they will no doubt reduce the amount of jargon in their presentations.

3. Presentation Skills Book Review

This month's review is of a book that caught my attention because the foreword was written by the late Phil Hartman (of "Saturday Night Live" and "Newsradio" fame). And of course I totally ascribe to the notion that humor and drama are the lifeblood of superior presentations, so I just had to read "I've Asked Miller to Say a Few Words," by Cherie Kerr (CA: ExecuProv Press, 1995).

It turns out that Kerr got Phil Hartman to write the foreword because they were both former members of the famous L. A. Groundlings (though not at the same time). A master of improv himself, Hartman says, "I can imagine what good improv comedy training can bring to the bored rooms of corporate America." Amen to that!

Kerr's basic philosophy is this: "Improv basics are the key to great speaking, presentation, and communication skills." And the premise of her book is that anyone can learn how to improvise successfully; it's just a matter of "working out" frequently. "If we never work out," Kerr says, "our spontaneity muscle will atrophy. If we use it occasionally, it may support us only some of the time. So your goal (and mine) is to become so mentally 'buff' that you can be spontaneous with ease, even when you're under pressure."

Kerr provides many exercises, adapted from the Groundlings' repertoire, that readers can practice to bulk up their improv muscles. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Flashcard Exercise: "Have someone you know write down nouns on pieces of paper, like the flashcards used by schoolchildren. Then have the other person flash these cards at you for just a few seconds each time. When you see the noun, start talking about that subject as fast as you can. Don't repeat the written word when you start thinking about it, though; that only gives you time to stall and think. The idea is not to think, but instead to just gab away."

Expert Talker: "Have someone make up a non-existent word, or take a word and spell it backwards. Make it a long word, or at least three syllables. First, you must pronounce it. Then, pretending that it's your field of expertise, stand up and begin talking about your profession—explain what it is, how you became an expert in it, what you do as an expert so and so. If the opportunity arises, do this in front of an audience, and have them ask you questions afterward. Some examples of professions might be: a Ribernort; a Pullicist; a Dorflam; a Borscart; a Flibaurgrapher; a Misimgstrortflat; or an Ethingarphologist."

Improv helped me get out of my sticky situation (above) with the cops. It can surely help you, too!

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

In a change from my usual format this month, I am going to recommend that you visit a site that is not directly related to presentation skills training. But it IS related to training—training young people to learn to understand each other and live in peace.

The site is www.cfpni.org, and it's the home page of The Children's Friendship Project for Northern Ireland (CFPNI), a most amazing non-profit organization that raises funds to bring teenagers to the US from Northern Ireland each summer. The teens come in pairs, one Catholic, one Protestant, and they live for four weeks (the month of July) with a host family in the US. The goal of the program is to allow these teens (15 to 17 years old) to really get to know each other, in a way they never would back home, where Catholic and Protestant do not mingle socially, and where religion is always political.

I am currently the Southwestern Coordinator for the CFPNI, and as I type this I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of ten teenaged girls, who flew from Belfast very early this morning (along with 96 other pairs of teens who will go to other cities in the US) and will arrive in Albuquerque very late tonight. Their five host families will be there to greet them at the airport and we are all very excited about their arrival.

No matter where you live in the US, you can participate in CFPNI. Visit the website to learn how, or email me (edowling@standuptrainer.com).

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.
Ellen Dowling, President
(505) 307-1700